Itinerary Location: Crystal Palace | Duration: 4 Hours
As neighbourhoods go, it’s a real gem.
This patch of South London is named after the enormous glass pavilion that housed the Great Exhibition of 1851, and was relocated, piece by piece, to what was then known as Penge Peak. The palace itself sadly burnt down in the 1930s, but the expansive parkland that was formed around it remains one of the most beautiful pockets of greenery in London – and thanks to the cluster of independent shops, cafés and pubs right next to it, it’s a pretty bloody pleasant way to spend a day off.
To get there, make your way to Penge West station on the Overground, take a right out the station and then a left to head into…
➊ CRYSTAL PALACE PARK | 10.30am
Covering 200 acres, Crystal Palace Park isn’t exactly short of diversions. Navigate the 160m-wide hedge maze; hire a pedalo to take across the park’s glittering lake; watch the skaters bash out gnarly moves in the skate park; and admire the majestic – and entirely inaccurate – Victorian dinosaur sculptures in the park’s south-eastern quarter. Dino discovery man Sir Richard Owen oversaw their production, and they are, fittingly, quite terrible lizards. However, such is their standing in the local consciousness that they’ve been given Grade II listing, so any meteorites threatening to wipe them off the face of the earth will have to seek planning permission first.
➋ BROWN & GREEN | 11.30am
Once you’ve built up an appetite, head to the striking fish-scaled pavilion by the dinos that houses the Brown & Green café. It’s a perennially popular spot stuffed with prams and big groups, but if you can score a table you can buckle in for one of the finest brunches this side of the river. We’re talking butties stuffed with bacon, rocket and a pea & white bean mash; hungover beans spiked with mustard and chorizo; and an Indian take on the Full English with bhajis, dahl and masala scrambled egg.
If it’s a Sunday, pick up a pastel de nata for the road from Crystal Palace Market (which sets up shop just opposite the café), then head out of the park and south towards…
➌ THE CRYSTAL PALACE TRIANGLE | 12.45pm
Some people think there’s no point shopping in Crystal Palace. Well, egg on their face, there’s actually three. The ‘triangle’ is the beating heart of the area, home to an impressive clutch of independent spots that are worth taking an hour or two to explore. A couple of highlights include:
The Alma – a beautiful Victorian pub decked out in sophisticated tones of muted greys and greens, with a sizeable beer garden out the back shaded by a chandelier-laden marquee. And its no under-10s policy makes it a thoroughly grown-up bolthole.
The Walkthrough – on the off-chance you’re carrying a couple of empty Kilner jars with you, this wholesome shop will replenish your whole foods supply with organic, sustainably sourced produce sold without packaging.
Bookseller Crow on the Hill – a widely-loved independent bookstore with regular book signings and author talks, and an owner who we suspect may have read every book on the planet.
Haynes Lane Market – a ramshackle warren stuffed with an eclectic collection of vintage curios, antiques and bric-a-brac, plus a pop-up space housing vinyl markets, makers’ stalls and more.
Crystal Palace Antiques – a more orderly treasure trove of larger antiques, from fabulously ornate grandfather clocks to sleek midcentury cabinets.
Craft & Courage – purveyors of more than 150 craft brews and 50 small-batch gins, with regular tap takeovers and tasting nights.
The Secret Garden – a sizeable garden centre worth a visit whether you’ve got a window box or a 10 acre estate to fill.
The Sourcing Table – a follow-up to Peckham’s popular natural wine bar, with over 400 bottles to take away or sip on-site.
Crystal Palace Reptiles – a wonderfully surreal emporium filled with tanks of fish, snakes and chameleons.
Everyman Cinema – a particularly stylish incarnation of the plush boutique cinema group, housed in an art deco cinema dating back to 1928.
Sound Vinyl – peruse the £1 bargain crates outside the shop, then head into the basement for the deep cuts.
Feeling peckish? Plenty of the triangle’s pubs offer Sunday roasts, but if you’re visiting mid-week, or just fancy something a little lighter, head down Belvedere Road and left up Hamlet Road towards:
➍ CHATSWORTH BAKEHOUSE | 2pm
Chatsworth Bakehouse is an independently run bakery founded by a couple who started baking as a lockdown project, instead of sitting around in their pants like everyone else. You can’t feel too envious though, because they’re turning out some real treats for the neighbourhood in their Anerley Road shop – not least their brick-sized focaccia sandwiches, whose meal-worthy fillings change each week. Due to their cultish following, you have to be a little (ok, really) organised if you want to get your hands on one: pre-ordering opens each Monday at 12.30, for collection on Wed-Fri lunchtimes. But if you swing by on a Saturday, things are left to go with the flow. You can pick up freshly baked loaves; focaccia; crisp pastries; and, from 1pm, pizzas by the slice, ‘grandma style’.
Pick out something delicious, and take it for a walk back into the park for the perfect picnic spot:
➎ CRYSTAL PALACE PARK TERRACE | 2.15pm
Time for one last dose of greenery before descending back into the familiar fug of London proper. The park has plenty of spots to stop off with your baked treats – on the Victorian benches below a canopy of leaves in the tree-lined avenues; in the shadow of the striking Crystal Palace Bowl (an al fresco live music stage which locals are campaigning to revive); or just on an expanse of sun-drenched greenery. But for our money, the best spot is to dine with the sphinxes on the terrace, overlooking panoramic scenery (in the southwestern quarter of the park, nearest the Triangle). Granted, you’re facing the wrong way to catch any of the landmarks of the London skyline, but it’s still a strikingly verdant vista, and on a clear day you can see for about 60 miles, down towards Dover.
It’s the perfect final stop before you ship off home.
➊ Crystal Palace Park | Thicket Road, London SE20 8DT
➋ Brown & Green | Thicket Road, London SE20 8DS
➌ Crystal Palace Triangle | Westow Hill, Westow Street & Church Road
➍ Chatsworth Bakehouse | 120a Anerley Road, SE19 2NA
➎ Crystal Palace Park Viewpoint | Crystal Palace Park, London SE19 2BA
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